Archive for the ‘Editors' Dispatches’ Category

Hat-Tipping Time

Friday, September 26th, 2014

It’s time for a post commending our small pool of trusted readers, who are in no small way responsible for buoying our literary vessel. These magnificent humans render thoughtful judgments on thousands of submissions each year. They have children to raise, medical conditions that require myriad unguents, rude neighbors who sneak out at night to pee on their lawns—and still they read on. Below are some examples of their considered critiques. Thank you, volunteers and satellite readers, for your generous service.

—I found a lot of things about the premise, character, and form surprising. This one felt fresh, though there were some areas where the language was a little clumsy, and the moment of change seems sudden. I think it could be expanded.

—The writing takes us right up to the point where the story should start. Then it ends.

—Strong, unexpected images. Unique voice. Deserves another read.

—This story is beautifully written; it also has much more of a sense of its own language & the power of that language than it does of the story’s moving parts. As an experiment, it’s engaging, even stirring; as a story, it’s somewhat less. The writer is clearly quite talented, though.

—The poet has the ability to move from outer space to a tight close-up in some of the poems, and when it works, it’s a pretty ride.

—I enjoyed the energy and imagination with which the poet approached her subject matter. There is a tension dug into in these lyrics that evokes what is learned and lost in growing up.

—Complex and moving. I love this one. Engages timely issues with deft handling. The description goes on for awhile, but it’s interesting how the dynamics shift as they go.

—This story is not terribly original, and the beginning and end aren’t quite right, but the writing is good throughout. Perhaps someone to watch?

—A pretty good story here. Quiet. Sensitively envisioned.

—An accomplished poet. Many of these didn’t grab me but were technically sophisticated. They are worth another read.

—Sketches of somewhat stereotypical characters. All in summary and description, no scenes. It doesn’t hold together as a cohesive whole.

Upon Spelling

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Nicola Mason: Last week, Michael (the fiction editor) looked up from his reading and asked, “What words do you see that are frequently misspelled?”

“Cemetery,” I said, “minuscule, seize, graffiti, mantel—the fireplace thing—as opposed to mantle—the cloak thing. What about you?”

“Discreet—the keep-it-to-yourself thing—as opposed to discrete—the singular-bits thing—Caribbean, liquefy, genealogy. What else?”

“People always use poured when they mean pored. And Cincinnati,” I said. “It’s surprising how often people stick an extra t in there.”

“Millennium,” he said, “sacrilegious, fluorescent.”

“Vocal cords,” I said, “with an h.”

“Yes!” he cried. “With an h.”

“Foreword,” I said.

“Epigraph,” he said. “Not epigram.”

“Not epigram.” I nodded. “Nyet.”

Michael rested his chin on his thumb. “How can we help the spelling challenged?”

“I’ve got it,” I replied. “We can quote Words into Type. On the blog. Everyone who’s anyone reads the blog.”

“Whose,” he said, “when they mean who’s. And vice versa.”

“Vice,” I said, “when they mean vise.”

“Such as this passage?” he inquired: “The writer who is a poor speller should work with a dictionary always at his side and should send out no manuscript, proposal, or outline without carefully checking doubtful words and proper names.”

“Indeed,” I said. “And this one: Words often misspelled should be memorized or written on a list for future reference.”

“Good one,” commended Michael.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m glad we had this very spontaneous talk about the building blocks of our wonderfully expressive language.”

“Ditto,” Michael replied, making a little gun with his index finger and thumb, then shooting it at me. “What do you say we get back to our reading?”

I nodded, leaning toward my computer screen and inhaling. “I love the smell of fresh submissions.”

Revising our Reading Period: August 15 to March 15

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Nicola Mason: It’s Trepidation Day here at the mag—the day we designated to make it known that we are (deep breath) shortening our reading period. We’ve gone back and forth. There’s been heated discussion. Fisticuffs, even. Okay, not fisticuffs, but brow furrowing and such. Definitely brow furrowing and one incipient case of TMJ. In other words, we don’t want to do it, but we have to do it. Weirdly, it’s to be fair to all the talented writers submitting—who are waiting longer and longer to hear from us because of the steadily climbing number of quality manuscripts we receive. Each day we get an email from an irritated, perhaps slightly more than irritated, writer whose work has been under consideration for, basically, ever. This most often means that one reader dug it and passed it on to someone else, who dug it and passed it on to someone else (repeat two more times), and it has reached the head eds, who must read it, and maybe even reread it, before deciding if it goes into the upcoming issue. Sad to say (reality rears its pattern-bald pate) we can publish less than 1%  of what we receive.

We most definitely don’t want to speed up the actual process of reading submissions. We don’t want to give anything short shrift. In fact, we rather pride ourselves on supporting that underserved set of writers, the emergers. We are excited, for example, to have discovered John William McConnell’s story “House of Wine,” forthcoming in our fall/winter issue. It’s his first publication, and it’s amazing. We are painfully aware, however, that we are not being kind to hold onto the work—for, basically, ever—of wonderful writers who are trying to take the lit world by the nape and give it a sharp shake. In other words, to be fair to those who submit, we have to restrict the number of submissions we receive. We realize this is something of a catch-22, and that there will be strong feelings and opinions about our long-considered and considerably fraught decision.

Of course, we would love for some beneficent donor to appear before us with a sack of crisp bills so we could a.) work full time, or b.) hire more kick-ass staffers. If you know such a person—if you ARE such a person—we’d be thrilled to hear from you. In the meantime, we are shortening our reading period—with regret—in the hope that we will be more speedily responsive in the future.

I leave you with this delightful passage from the story mentioned above. Thanks, John William McConnell, for sending your stuff our way.

John’s mind jump-started awake. Lilith asleep next to him, snoring. Dim bars of light leaned across the bedroom, beamed through the slats from a disco-ball moon. John immediately understood he would not be sleeping that night, only by the sobriety of his awakeness, its painful edge and the ache behind his eyes.

John frowzed upright and frowzed his brow; he frowzed, then frowzed his eyes and frowzily frowzed out of bed. He really wanted to utter an obscenity but had forgotten them all. He pulled on his pants and shuffled around shirtless in a world of gunmetal blue, and gray, and lurking blacknesses in the corners. Out of the bedroom. Through a blank hall. To a menagerie of couches and furniture that had borrowed from the night a glister of comatose hate. Fuck you, said the couches. On the table was a bottle of wine, number four, and praise the lord: still half full. He poured into a glass and raised it. There was very red lipstick on the rim. Lip, John thought. John glanced around. What the fuck was this? He just wanted to. Yeah, he was gonna do it. John pressed his mouth over the lipstick, her lipstick, cherryblood red. Drank the wine with his mouth precisely over the lipstick and enjoyed the lipid roundness of the stuff adhering to his mouth. The sticky fat. He held the glass and listened. Sometimes there was the shorelike sound of a car spinning around the cul-de-sac, lost in the suburbs, probably, and how the high beams arced like the flash of a lighthouse through the windows. Vase, picture, couch, plant. He drank again, smacked his mouth.

News from the Crypt

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Hey, CR followers. We’re breaking our summer skeleton-crew silence with a reminder, an update, and a treat.

First, don’t forget our summer contest. There’s some lovely moolah attached to the Schiff Prizes—and even if the eds don’t pick your piece to win, they may still want to publish it at our usual per-page rate ($30 for poetry, $25 for prose). In the event that we don’t opt to publish your stuff this time around, you still get a full year’s subscription to the mag, which includes bonus music features AND the 64-page, full-color graphic play MOTH, which we plan to mail out with our November issue. Illustrator Gable Ostley is hard at work and sending us new “rough inks” almost daily, and playwright Declan Greene is supplying captions and dialogue for Gabe’s sketches. The finished product is going to be amazing.

Now for the update: We just approved the final proof for our summer issue and expect the shipment in the next week or so. Our TEN-tacular issue includes last year’s Schiff Prize winners, three reviews that meditate on the staying power of the classic Moby-Dick, the usual complement of terrific stories and poems, another great translation feature,  and—bonus—it will be accompanied by our latest music feature, composer Sarah Hutchings’s score for Jeff Gundy’s poem “March Ode.”

Today’s treat comprises a last delightful look at our winter number in the form of our (relatively) new blog feature Pas de Deux, in which contributors to a given issue interview each other about what intrigued, puzzled, or impressed them in the another writer’s story, poem, or essay. This installment features an exchange between Daniel A. Hoyt and Douglas Silver on the latter’s story  ”Found Peoples.”  Check back in a couple of days for the switcheroo: Doug’s questions and Dan’s responses!

Daniel A. Hoyt: I have lots of questions about bodies and lots of questions that seem to beget more questions. “Found Peoples” starts with such gripping, visceral language as Feng, the story’s protagonist, examines a dead body he’s fished from the river. I was immediately convinced by the body; I was there with Feng as he “pinched the green eye, and the contact lens peeled off.” How did you create these artful and disturbing states of decay? What kind of research did you do? Is this a feat of imagination, of medical textbooks, of Google?

Douglas Silver: Google is generally my first stop—be it for a spicier Massaman curry recipe or the particulars of each stage of human decomposition. Numerous websites and academic journals provided an indispensable foundation in the science of decay. I read a lot and emailed a few experts and saw many images I would like to unsee. From there, it was a matter of backtracking—from ashes to animation—and deciding upon those details that provide a glimpse into the lives of the deceased.

DH: How about your depiction of China? How did you go about imagining and creating the physical setting and the rich sociological dynamics underpinning the story?

DS: China’s abysmal record on human rights and personal expression is infamous the world over. It is a dreadful place to be writer and a fascinating place to write about. Much of the societal and physical depictions were the product of research, but the narrative atmosphere was strongly influenced by my visit to China after graduating high school. When I arrived at the airport in Beijing, I noticed a sign that read Warning: Drug Trafficking is Punishable by Death in the R.O.C. Being 18 and an idiot, I thought this a superb photo-op. Before I could put away my camera, two officers approached me. One took my luggage and emptied it in front of everyone while the other demanded my passport. When they didn’t find drugs, they repacked me (admittedly neater than I had packed myself) and welcomed me to the country. When I told someone I met about this interaction, an American who had lived in China for years, she explained how lucky I was, how much worse it would have been if I were Chinese. I sought out that airport photograph when I began the story and kept asking myself what becomes of the unlucky.

DH: Because these questions are for a Pas de Deux feature, this question seems almost mandatory: Will you discuss the way you use foils in “Found Peoples”?

DS: One of the challenges of the piece was providing the reader a palpable sense of Feng’s former life. It seemed the most organic method to achieve this was through Feng’s encounters with those who were devoted to his family, and leveraging this juxtaposition for the benefit of both characterization and narrative tension. At some point, it occurred to me that it is Feng’s contact with the living through which the reader derives the clearest prospective into Feng’s past, i.e., the life he lost. Conversely, it is his dealings with the dead that most clearly render his present life—a paradigm that is upended by his time with the young woman’s body.

DH: There’s a strangely mundane yet magical moment in “Found Peoples” when Feng thinks of and explains the story of the prodigal son. To many members of a western audience and to many western characters, that explanation is unnecessary, but Feng has to think about it in a different way. How did you discover Feng’s point of view? How do you go about shaping point of view in your stories?

DS: I’m of the belief that the surest way to figure out a character is to determine what he or she most desires. If my character doesn’t have an urgent need, then I don’t have a character. At least not one I have any right to expect readers to invest in. I start by asking myself the basics: What does CHARACTER want? Why does CHARACTER want it? What is preventing CHARACTER from getting it? In Feng’s case, while he spends his days working vigilantly and dishonorably to afford basic human necessities, he desires at his core the safe return of his family and the communal acceptance that carries. But he is powerless to achieve that desire; his sole option is faith—something he has never possessed, what divided him from his family prior to their incarceration and what he can’t acquire without them. Once I realized the paradox of Feng as a man who doesn’t believe and therefore isn’t believed in (and therefore can’t believe), I felt like I might have character worth following.

DH: This one may seem like an assignment rather than a question, but I wish more people would read Our Mutual Friend (you too, Gentle Reader of The Cincinnati Review blog!), so here goes: As I first read “Found Peoples,” I immediately thought of Gaffer Hexam, the “night bird” in Our Mutual Friend, who, like Feng, fishes corpses from a river and strips them of valuables.  Here’s a link to the opening chapter, when we first meet Gaffer and his daughter, Lizzie. Doug, I know you were initially inspired by a news article about men who retrieve dead bodies from rivers in China, but had you read Our Mutual Friend? What kind of dialogue do you see between your story and the opening of Dickens’s novel?

DS: I’m embarrassed and grateful that I had not heard of Our Mutual Friend. Having now read the first chapter, I am not sure I would have had the confidence to write the piece had I known that none other than Charles Dickens had employed a similar conceit, especially given that both stories start out in medias res. While it appears Gaffer and Feng are not driven by similar desires, both have no qualms about plundering the dead. Gaffer’s rhetorical statement “Has a dead man any use for money? Is it possible for a dead man to have money? What world does a dead man belong to? ‘Tother world. What world does money belong to? This world. . . .” places a premium on corporeality similar to that of Feng, whose ken is viewed through the lens of materialism. Again, I have read one chapter, so my analysis might prove to be total bunk. (But I’m enjoying it thus far, as might you, Gentle Reader of The Cincinnati Review blog!)

Tentacular Redux; or, Call for Peglegs

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Near and dear friends, pull out your calendars and draw a heart in the square for April 5. Make that a heart and an exclamation point. No—a heart and an exclamation point with a smiley face where the dot would be. It’s still our tenth anniversary. Yep. All year. We did it up fancy at AWP, and now we’re bringing the party home. Well, if Covington counts as home—and we say it does. On April 5 eve, hop over the river and meet us at the Leapin’ Lizard Lounge. The fun starts at 7 p.m. and runs till someone spoils it by breakdancing. Funky’s is catering, and Bon Bonerie is providing a cake the size of a private island. We’ll have poetry readings (by Jeff Gundy and Kathleen Winter), musical performances (of CR poems that composers Sarah Hutchings and Steven Weimer wrote scores for), and a dramatic reading (by Ben Dudley and MaryKate Moran) from Declan Greene’s MOTH, which we are in the process of making into a graphic play. Oh—and if you have a great playlist on your iPod, get in touch. We need you. Same if you can drink raw eggs or play bongos with your pegleg.

About Suffering They Were Never Wrong

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

We’re thrilled that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C. K. Williams is spending this week in Cincinnati. As the Elliston Poet for the 2013-14 academic year, Williams gave a master class yesterday on “First Drafts, Last Drafts,” illuminating the nuances of his exhaustive revision process. In line with old masters like Horace and Alexander Pope (Horace recommended that poets withhold their work from publication for ten years), Williams equated his practice with the act of being physically beaten—repeatedly—and confessed to spending twenty years on a single piece. As proof, Williams offered several scrawled-on drafts of poems that eventually became “Newark Noir” and “Wall,” both from his most recent collection, Writers Writing Dying (2012). Most striking was the formal recasting Williams performed in each draft, how a meditative lyric like “The Economy Rescued by My Mother Returning to Shop,” for example, began as a brief prose memoir and eventually settled into the sprawling, Whitmanesque lines Williams has become famous for.

C. K. Williams is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Writers Writing Dying (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012); Wait (2010); and Collected Poems (FSG, 2007). The Singing won the National Book Award in 2003; and his previous book, Repair, was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. His collection Flesh and Blood received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Williams has also published a memoir, Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself, in 2000, and has published translations of Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, Euripides’ Bacchae, and poems of Francis Ponge, among others. A prose book entitled Williams, On Whitman, was released in 2010 from Princeton University Press. He is also the author of two books of essays: Poetry and Consciousness (1998) and In Time (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

Williams will read his poetry at 4:00 this afternoon in the George Elliston Poetry Room, located in Langsam Library 646. This reading is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there.

Remembering Cathryn Long

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Nicola Mason: For the last couple of months I’ve been attempting to approach the difficult task of informing our far-flung contributors, readers, and friends about the death of Don Bogen’s wife, Cathryn Long, from inflammatory breast cancer. She passed just before Thanksgiving, and needless to say, inhabiting the world feels vastly different now that Cathryn’s not here to grace it with her sprightly intelligence, her sly wit, her great warmth, and her encompassing curiosity. She could boast a great many triumphs and accomplishments, but she didn’t. Her loss is deeply felt by friends and family in small- and large-scale ways—and, of course, by none more than Don and their two children, Anna and Theo.

Cathryn was a huge supporter of The Cincinnati Review, and even a fan (she read every issue cover to cover and when we met would bring up this story or that essay), but few know that she also generously lent first her eye or ear to poems Don was considering, then her thoughts. Engagement was one of Cathryn’s gifts, and the magazine benefited from her focus on, and passion for, words in specific and creative enterprise in general. For this—and to her—we will always be grateful.

Longing for Length

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

We here in the CR office are all, in a word, short. Brian Trapp, the giant among us, tops out at three foot eight. Needless to say, we rely pretty heavily on Photoshop when posting images of ourselves. But in the spirit of  those reveals where celebs appear proudly in unretouched-up photos without makeup, we want to “come out” to CR’s devoted following and show ourselves as we really look.

Just as people with curly hair wish they had the straight stuff and angular people want curves (and vice versa), our diminutive statures make us long for length. Not much we can do about that in the physical sense, but we’ve decided, as strong proponents of placebos, to devote an issue of CR to forms that we can lose ourselves in. You got a poem cycle that circles the globe? Send it. You got a novella nosing through the top of the giraffe house? We’re your mag. The limits (because, well, when are there not limits?): for prose, NO FEWER THAN 10,000 words and NO MORE THAN 35,000 words; and for poetry, works NO FEWER THAN 10 pages in manuscript. Put us on the rack of your writing and give us a good, sustained stretch. Attenuate our attention spans. Gangly up our ganglia. NOTE: When you submit your protracted pieces, be sure to click the category “Longform – Poetry” or “Longform – Prose” in Submission Manager. (That way your submission goes to the right readers right away.)

New Issue + Art Song

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

The Bad: Paper cuts. Unwieldy tape guns. Sitting on the floor criss-cross applesauce for hours on end. Rapid-onset carpal tunnel.

The Good: Subscribers can look for CR 10.2 to magically appear via the still sprightly and efficient United States Postal Service.

The Wonderful: This issue kicks off our tenth-anniversary year and features the printed score of our first art song, from a poem by Kathleen Winter, “Eve, Seducing the Apple” (CR 4.1), composed by Steve Weimer for Mezzo-Soprano, Viola, Violoncello, and Piano.

As poetry editor Don Bogen writes in 10.2, the printed score is appealing even if you don’t read music: “You can see the poem unfolding among the intricate patterns of notes, directions, and blank spaces on the lines.” So if you don’t have it already, order a copy of the stellar 10.2. When it arrives, if you do read music and happen to have a few string players and a piano on hand, do it up. But just in case your reading skills are confined to the literary, we’ve included a performance recorded last winter from musicians at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. This recording features Mezzo-Soprano Chelsea Duval-Major, Cellist Matt Harman, and Violist Zach Saunders. Enjoy.

Click this link to listen: Eve, Seducing the Apple

Remembering Sarah Doerries

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The blog was silent on Friday to mark the sudden passing of Sarah Richards Doerries, a contributor to our Winter 2008 issue who had been steadily and generously reading CR submissions for more than a year. She volunteered for this work because she loved it, and the editors here looked forward to her informed and lively assessments of the poetry and prose assigned her. Sarah was a longtime friend of Nicola Mason and Michael Griffith. They met in the early ’90s when she came on staff as a graduate assistant at The Southern Review. Sarah went on to publish her poetry and to edit books for many of the top publishing houses in the country, as well as to work and teach at her alma mater, Newcomb College/Tulane University. Her last position was that of editor at the Historic New Orleans Collection, and she was on her way to represent the Collection at the Frankfurt Book Fair when she suffered the brain aneurysm that ended her life. She had a vast intelligence, a nimble wit, a warm heart, and a brilliant spark. We will sorely miss her.